The impacts of air pollution on mental health : evidence from the Chinese university students

Daqing ZU, Keyu ZHAI*, Yue QIU, Pei PEI, Xiaoxian ZHU, Dongho HAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


A growing number of developing countries have experienced worsening air pollution, which has been shown to cause significant health problems. However, few studies have explored the impact of air pollution on the mental health of university students, particularly in the Chinese context. In order to address this gap, through a large-scale cross-sectional survey, this study aims to examine the effects of air pollution on final-year Chinese university undergraduates’ (due to graduate in 2020) mental health by employing multivariable logistic regression. Our findings show that, first, although normal air quality is not strongly associated with lower levels of negative mental health, there is a strong link between poor air quality and higher levels of negative mental health. More specifically, life satisfaction hedonic unhappiness and depression measured by the Centre for Epidemiological Studies’ Depression scale (CES-D) are statistically associated with air pollution. In addition, we also found that gender is a significant factor, as males had more than 1.6 times greater odds of increased mental health problems compared to their female counterparts. Place of birth also plays a significant role in participants’ mental health. Moreover, undergraduates with urban household registration experienced significant levels of hedonic unhappiness and depression on the CES-D scale. Finally, we found that there is an association between respondents’ economic situation and their mental health too. Overall, this study contributes to the research on air pollution management and mental health intervention, particularly in relation to student groups. The undergraduate curriculum should provide more guidance and suggestions on promoting mental health and establishing positive attitudes to life and academic study of the final year students, under the context of air pollution in China.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6734
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number18
Early online date16 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by Teaching Affairs Department, China University of Mining & Technology (Xuzhou), grant number [2019YB37]. And the APC was funded by School of Foreign Studies, China University of Mining & Technology (Xuzhou).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Air pollution
  • China
  • Life satisfaction
  • Mental health
  • Undergraduate students
  • Well-being


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